Thursday, April 28, 2011

This is not a recipe

Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

My apologies to Magritte. Okay. Seriously.

Today's post is not a recipe. It's more of an...assemblage? Yes, this is that. You've had those evenings too, right? Staring into the depths of your fridge waiting for inspiration to strike. Or a frozen pizza. Whichever strikes first. Tonight's dinner was an assemblage made of chapati (Costco impulse), boneless turkey breast (Whole Foods sale), and some veggies (CSA). Add some pesto from a local restaurant (I know some of you green-thumb folks have last summer's pesto frozen), and you have...cultural confusion. Or in other words...

Pesto flatbread pizza with turkey and balsamic vegetables

6 pre-made chapati
Boneless turkey breast (or substitute chicken breast or cutlets)
1 large summer squash, cut once lengthwise and then sliced into half-rounds
1/2 sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
Fresh mozzarella, roughly chopped, or shredded mozzarella
Pre-made pesto
Olive oil
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Slice the turkey breast vertically across the grain into slices about 1/2" wide. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour a bit of olive oil into a frying pan. Add garlic and sauté briefly. Add the turkey slices and cook until done. Remove from heat and cut into thin strips.

In another pan, add a bit of olive oil. Sauté onion until it starts to caramelize. Add summer squash. Cook until soft. Drizzle with approximately 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.

In a sauté pan (cast iron works well), heat the chapati until lightly brown on both sides (per package instructions).

Place chapati on a cookie sheet. Slather a base layer of pesto onto the chapati. Add other ingredients (turkey, balsamic vegetables, tomatoes). Top with mozzarella. Pop into the oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

If you're curious about how to make your own chapati, here's Mark Bittman's take.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Everything's bigger in Texas...even the Whole Foods

Ahhh...the Whole Foods flagship store in downtown Austin. How I miss thee. Thy rooftop deck with dining tables and playscape for the kiddos. Thy mouthwatering, awe-inspiring bulk foods section.

"How can a bulk foods section be awe-inspiring?" you ask. After all, bulk foods sound sensible, economical, but hardly jaw-dropping. You haven't seen nuthin' yet, my friends.

(I had to get special dispensation from the very nice Whole Foods higher-ups to take these photos. I wore a special badge sticker and felt quite special.)


...the mighty wall of spices and dried peppers...This wall reminds me of an incredible pantry. Vintage and organized and inviting...all at the same time.

Flours, grains, beans...oh my!

I'm absolutely in love with these specialty sugars. So much that little bags of the green chili cane sugar and lime cane sugar came home with me. The green chili sugar is amazing. Redolent of green chili. Spicy and sweet. I think it would pair beautifully with shrimp. And the lime sugar just speaks to me. "Perfect for rimming margarita glasses," it says. 

Whoever thought dried beans could be inspirational? Here, they are. Their subtle, varied colors and textures displayed in these old-fashioned bins remind me of artisan-made beads. Art in legume form.

Thanks to the Whole Foods folks for allowing me to share these photos with you. There's lots to think about here. Ways to use stored foods decoratively. Chalkboards with hand-written quotes and info. Fabulous flavored sugars. Definite food for thought.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Still keeping it weird...

Pedestrians. Cyclists. Hipsters and folks meditating. A typical scene in Austin, Texas...

...And then there are the pianos...

"Keep Austin Weird"

If you visit Austin, you'll see this slogan emblazoning t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs. The slogan was born as Austin struggled with its population boom and all of the attendant challenges. It urged folks to frequent local small businesses. For Austin to keep its unique flavor amidst the blossoming of Starbucks and Gaps. As local landmarks were demolished in favor of new, gleaming downtown condos and office spaces.

Perfectly in character for a city that embraces music, art, and idiosyncrasy, you can find 14 colorfully painted pianos scattered outdoors for the month of April. On pedestrian bridges and tucked around a hike and bike trail. By City Hall. Folks are welcome to play them, and while I took photos, I saw a few people try out some tunes.

Thank you, Austin, for keeping it so very wonderfully, colorfully weird.

Friday, April 22, 2011


"Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Boston anymore."

I'm in a place of saturated, riotous color...

...and relaxed, outdoor living. Perfect for dining al fresco with pitchers of margaritas and friends.

Where when you talk about metal ceilings, you don't mean historic tin ceilings, but a collage of shiny hubcaps...

Where you can feast on Polvos Enchiladas Doña Clara: enchiladas dipped in guajillo sauce, stuffed with monterey jack cheese and onions, topped with shredded cabbage, jalapeños, fresh avocado, and dried cheese. Or Torchy's Trailer Park tacos: fried chicken, green chiles, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cheese on flour tortilla with poblano sauce. Done extra trashy (queso, no lettuce). Or Chuy's Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom: roasted chicken and cheese with Boom-Boom sauce (cheese, roasted New Mexican green chiles, tomatillos, green onions, cilantro, and lime juice). This last was so spicy that it made my nose run. I'm obviously out of training.

I'm visiting in a place that will always hold a piece of my heart. The land of family, great friends, great food...and bluebonnets. I'll be back soon to Beantown (hopefully with some fabulous dried peppers and spices stashed in my luggage), ready to share some great Mexican-inspired recipes. Meanwhile, I hope you're having a wonderful Easter weekend/Passover.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Baked kale chips

I have a wee confession to make.

Kale is one of those vegetables that I walk past in the grocery store. No eye contact. No howdy-do. Nuthin'. I head for the broccoli (possibly the broccoli rabe if I'm feeling adventurous), the onions, the asparagus, the spinach (sometimes the bok choy). I'm not even sure that "kale" was in my vegetable lexicon.

But when kale showed up in my CSA box, I was super excited. (Yeah...I know...kale excites me. I must lead a sad sort of life...) I'd wanted to make kale chips ever since a friend posted about them on Facebook. A green leafy vegetable that preschool children devour? That's crispy and light and snack-a-licious? There must be some sort of catch, right?

Let's find out.

(On the plus side, the beautifully ruffled kale that I received proved to be quite photogenic. Intricate and organic.)

I was a bit surprised when I washed the kale. The leaves felt rubbery, not delicate like lettuce. They felt more like cabbage. I was growing ever more dubious about the kale chips.

The verdict? I need not have worried. They were light, crispy, salty perfection. Exactly as advertised. Best of all, Pretzel Boy ate a few kale chips. He then ate a few Cape Cod potato chips and mused, "How can they taste the same? One's a leaf, and one's a potato." If the pickiest of the picky will eat these chips, I'm officially calling this one a winner.

Baked kale chips
Seen on and smitten kitchen

1 bunch kale (approximately 12 leaves)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275ºF. Wash and dry kale. Cut away stalk and center rib, and cut into large pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. (Hint: Use much less salt than you think you need. My first batch was much too salty.)

Place in a single layer on parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until crispy. Place on rack to cool.

(For a delicious variation, add a pinch of paprika and garlic powder before baking.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lemony olive oil banana bread with chocolate chips

I discovered this recipe awhile ago on food writer Melissa Clark's blog. A decadent-looking banana bread that incorporates whole wheat flour and olive oil. "Olive oil?" you ask. Yes, I wondered too. I'd never baked with olive oil.

Now, butter. I love butter. Real butter. None of that If You Cross Your Eyes and Squint, You May Mistake It for Butter stuff. A hunk of butter on a perfectly chewy/crisp baguette equals bliss. However, I'm fairly certain that my cholesterol levels don't love butter. Not that I know what my cholesterol levels are. I'm afraid that I'll find out in a few weeks, and the news won't be good.

So why not use olive oil? A much healthier fat than butter. And the addition of whole wheat flour is a definite plus. Some dark chocolate, banana, and yogurt. Voila. It's practically health food.

Okay. That may be stretching it a bit.

It did make the house smell absolutely droolingly amazing.

I adapted Ms. Clark's recipe a bit. I used white whole wheat flour because I was afraid to use the stone-ground whole wheat stuff in my pantry. And I used semi-sweet chocolate chips because I'd mistakenly bought dark chocolate with almond bars instead of plain dark chocolate. Though now that I think about it...chopped up dark chocolate with almond may have been good too. Take a look at her original recipe. It has a yummy lemon glaze that I omitted. This treat was for my daughter to take to school, and I thought the glaze would make the bread not travel well.

Lemony olive oil banana bread with chocolate chips
Adapted from Melissa Clark's recipe

Serves 8 to 10

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups mashed, VERY ripe bananas (3 to 4 bananas)
1/4 cup sour cream or plain, whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9- by 5- inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate pieces and combine well.

In a separate bowl, mix together the olive oil, eggs, mashed banana, sour cream, and vanilla. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until dark golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out of the pan to cool completely.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This week's box

Here's this week's CSA box.

I'm super excited about the gorgeous head of kale that we received. I've wanted to try something for awhile now, but never got around to actually purchasing kale. That's what has been so great about the CSA. No more falling into food ruts.

Ree Drummond recently featured a delicious vegetable lasagna with squash, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and red sauce. Seeing today's squash, eggplant, and carrots made me wonder about trying a variant of her lasagna. Perhaps one alternating bechamel with tomato sauce. This sounds delicious. It also sounds like it would dirty a lot of pots. Possibilities. Possibilities...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Salade composée à la niçoise

Ahhh...April in Paris. A stroll along the Seine. A chocolat chaud and people watching from an outdoor table at a Parisian café.

Sadly, an ocean separates me from Paris. However, with some of my CSA goodies, I can at least enjoy a taste of la belle vie. As soon as I saw the lettuce, Yukon Golds, and green beans in my weekly box, I knew that I'd make a variant of the classic Niçoise Salad. My variation uses roasted potatoes, beets, and turnips along with lettuce, green beans, olives, hard-boiled egg, and tuna. I'd used up my allotment of tomatoes otherwise they would have been added to the salad. Délicieuse.

In The French Chef Cookbook, Julia Child describes a salade composée as "a handsomely arranged combination salad." For her, the salad could "be the solution for what to serve at an informal spur-of-the-moment meal. The trick is to toss all of the elements separately in vinaigrette, letting some marinate for 10 to 20 minutes if they need to take on flavor. Then when you arrange your work of art, each part of it is perfectly seasoned." I took some liberties with this, drizzling my work of art with vinaigrette instead of marinating each ingredient for 10 to 20 minutes. After all, it was a school night.

Salade composée à la niçoise
1 small head of greenleaf lettuce
2 cans of tuna in olive oil
5 medium potatoes (I used Yukon Gold), cut into wedges
2 beets, cubed coarsely
1 turnip, cubed coarsely
1/2 lb. green beans, ends trimmed
6 hard-boiled eggs
cup of marinated olives, pitted
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Will's vinaigrette
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
a pinch of salt
two pinches dried basil
one pinch dried oregano
freshly ground pepper to taste

Pour ingredients in a small, lidded jar. Shake well to combine.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place potatoes, beets, and turnip in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Place in oven and roast for 45 minutes. Stir a few times during roasting.

Steam or boil green beans until barely crisp, about 5-6 minutes. Slice hard-boiled eggs, thinly. Wash, dry, and shred lettuce leaves.

Place a few handfuls of lettuce on a plate. Top with tuna, green beans, roasted root vegetables, eggs, and olives. Drizzle lightly with vinaigrette. Serve with baguette.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sautéed swiss chard with parmesan and lemon

Isn't this gorgeous? Who wouldn't want to eat this fresh, colorful medley?

(Answer: my children)

The downside of our family pizza night tradition is that everyone gets to choose his or her own toppings. Which meant, of course, that swiss chard...even rainbow swiss chard...didn't make the cut. So instead of topping the pizza with chard, we sautéed it and served it on the side. It was quick, easy (the most labor and time intensive bit was the chopping), and delicious. My children ate it...reluctantly.

Sautéed swiss chard with parmesan and lemon

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems and center ribs cut out and chopped together, leaves coarsely chopped separately
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt to taste (optional)

Melt butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic and onion, and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the chard stems and the white wine. Simmer until the stems begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chard leaves, and cook until wilted. Finally, stir in lemon juice and parmesan cheese; season to taste with salt if needed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


It finally feels like spring. (My allergies assert themselves enthusiastically in agreement.) The brisk wind carries a hint of warmth. I hear a cacophony of birdsong outside. And today's CSA (community-supported agriculture) box is full of fresh, good things.

Now the fun begins. What to make? What to make? Look at the size of that greenleaf lettuce! It could provide enough salad for a small, herbivorous country. And that gorgeous rainbow chard? You'd think that my girls would absolutely love anything "rainbow," but sadly, no. Not even with bacon.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Asian lettuce wraps with ground beef and chicken

Recently, we joined a CSA.

Actually, I accidentally typed "NSA." No, I haven't joined the NSA. Of course not. I don't think that the recipes, decorating ideas, and all the other random things cluttering my head would be of any help in bolstering our nation's security. Though some Farrow & Ball paint colors might really add some sophistication to the NSA's government-issued drab rooms. After all, what better way to calm a terrifically stressful environment than through the use of color?  Plus Farrow & Ball are British, and the British are our friends.

(Did I just get entered onto a government watch list somewhere?) I was saying, we recently joined a CSA. This is our first time, and I wasn't sure what to expect. What we've gotten so far are boxes beautifully packed with amazingly fresh, gorgeous produce. It's like Christmas morning once a week here. A very vegetarian Christmas. And it has been lots of fun to play with new foods that I'd never have purchased.

Every week, we've received a huge, beautiful head of lettuce. And every week, I think to myself, "These would be perfect for lettuce wraps." So finally, I made them. Fast and flavorful.

Asian lettuce wraps
1 head of lettuce
8-10 ounces of dried rice vermicelli noodles

Wash and dry lettuce leaves. Set aside.

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Then turn off the heat, and add rice noodles to the water. Stir occasionally until soft (about 4-5 minutes). Then drain and rinse with cool water.

Place a small amount of noodles into each leaf. Top with the filling of your choice.

Asian lettuce wrap: ground beef filling
 1 lb ground beef
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 onion, diced fine
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Cook ground beef in a skillet until well browned. Drain beef and remove from skillet. Add oil to the pan and sauté onions, garlic, and ginger until they become tender. Add remaining ingredients to the pan along with cooked beef and heat through.

Asian lettuce wrap: chicken filling
2 bone-in chicken breasts
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1-2 teaspoons chile paste with garlic

Place chicken breasts in a large sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through. Let chicken cool. Discard skin, remove meat from bones, and chop the meat into small pieces.

In a small sauce pan, sauté garlic and ginger in a small amount of oil for about 2 minutes. Add liquid ingredients and stir over heat until all of the sugar is dissolved. Add chopped chicken to the pan and stir thoroughly to distribute sauce.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


The house still seems curiously quiet. No furious barking at Portia's mortal enemies (the coffee grinder, kitchen garbage bag, and vacuum cleaner). No nails clicking on the hardwood floors during a game of chase with the kids. I know that she was an animal, but her passing has left a tangible absence in our family. An emptiness.

A couple of days after Portia's passing, I came down with flu. High fever. Aches. Misery. So that's why I'd felt so off-kilter. Not just sadness and stress and the fatigue of spending a night holding a dying dog.

The best said about last week is that it has passed. But today I can get out of bed without reeling (punch-drunk without the fun). And it is starting to feel like spring. Thanks for your sympathy and your visits. They added light to an otherwise dark week.